Therapists who specialize in pediatric physical therapy are trained to diagnose, treat and manage a variety of developmental, neuromuscular, congenital, skeletal, and acquired diseases and disorders in infants, children and adolescents. They focus on improving the person's balance and coordination, gross and fine motor skills, strength, endurance, as well as their cognitive and sensory processing and integration. Children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, developmental delays, and torticollis are among the people who can benefit from pediatric physical therapy. Pediatric physical therapy promotes a child's independence, increasing their participation, motor development and function, improves their strength, enhances their learning opportunities, and eases care giving for family members.
A coordinated team of physical therapists and assistants develop a program that is specific to the child's needs and meets the family's goals. They work to optimize the child's gross motor and functional skills through various fun and innovative means. Pediatric physical therapists are able to work with children who have experienced or who have a brain injury, musculoskeletal or orthopedic disabilities, spinal cord injury, neurological disorders, or who have experienced a stroke, among other things.
Pediatric physical therapists have the goal of working with children in order to achieve their maximum potential related to functional independence. Through a process of examination, evaluation, and promotion of health and wellness, pediatric physical therapists implement a variety of interventions and supports. Pediatric physical therapists support children who range in age from infancy to adolescence, collaborating with their family members and educational, medical, developmental and rehabilitation specialists. They promote children and their participation and activity at home, in school, as well as in their community.
Family Member Participation
Parents and other family members of children who are pursuing pediatric physical therapy have a primary role in the child's development. A pediatric physical therapist works with family members and the individualized program that has been created for the child. Family members receive support via coordination of services, as well as advocacy and assistance designed to enhance the development of the child involved through things such as:
Adapting toys for play
Expanding mobility options
Using equipment effectively
Teaching safety for the home and community
Positioning during daily routines and activities
Providing information on the child's physical and health care needs
Easing transitions from early childhood to school and into adult life
Starting a Child in a Pediatric Physical Therapy Program
Supporting a child who is going to pursue pediatric physical therapy, as well as family members, starts with an interview to identify the needs of the child. It continues with an examination and evaluation of the child in the context of their daily activities and routines. The evaluation might include their mobility, strength and endurance, muscle and joint function, posture and balance, cardiopulmonary status, sensory and neuromotor development, oral motor skills and feeding, and use of any form of assistive technologies. Providing pediatric physical therapy involves a collaborative process, coaching, as well as interventions in the child's natural learning environments. The learning environments involved can include preschools, child care centers, schools, job sites, or other community settings. Children and family members might also have contact with pediatric physical therapists from hospitals and clinics while receiving care for medical conditions that are related, or during episodes of acute care.
Pediatric physical therapy, and the provision of it, is required legislatively by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which includes provisions for pediatric physical therapy for children between the ages of birth and twenty-one years of age who are eligible for early prevention or special education services. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the provision of reasonable accommodations, to include physical therapy, for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act also protects the rights of people with disabilities.
Pediatric physical therapy uses evidence-based practices which integrate research findings, clinical expertise, as well as values by pediatric physical therapists to provide best practices. Pediatric physical therapists provide services to children that can include:
Burn and wound care
Movement and mobility
Orthotics and prosthetics
Balance and coordination
Use of assistive technology
Recreation, play, and leisure
Safety and prevention programs
Equipment design, fabrication, and fitting
Adaptation of daily care activities and routines
Pediatric physical therapists specialize in helping children to develop and enhance their mobility so they can safely participate in activities in the community, at school, as well as at home. The therapists are concerned with the child's ability to participate in movement activities that can include crawling, walking, running, game playing, sports participation and additional physical interactions. Children who use adaptive equipment such as orthotics, wheelchairs or other forms of supports can benefit from having a pediatric physical therapist showing them how to navigate various environments. The therapists may use various intervention approaches such as massage, stretching, strengthening and endurance training to enhance a child's capabilities, as well as to prevent contractures and deformities.